Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places, Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger, Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thrifty Summer Style From TK Maxx

It's summer don't you know, yes it may not be wall to wall sunshine but it's July tomorrow!  TK Maxx very kindly sent me a £75 gift card, the brief was summer style and so I decided to be thrifty as possible and get as much as I could for my money, well it's not every day someone offers to pay for your shopping!

I love TK Maxx, it's no secret that after charity shops it's my favourite place to go searching for bargains, I once got Looby a Ralph Lauren skirt for £4.90 in the clearance section and I bought my very first Ralph Lauren, a jumper costing £35 instead of £130, sadly someone put it in the washer at a temperature that was just a little too high!

Wanna see what I got for my £75?


These sunglasses were without a doubt my biggest bargains, the white Anna Sui sunglasses were in the clearance section, RRP £130, I paid £13 and the purple Marc Jacobs sunglasses were £11 with an RRP of £110, yes that's £240 of designer sunglasses for £24 and I've worn them every day since I got them at the weekend, I perpetually wear sunglasses because I have light sensitive eyes (you can blame a career as a professional photographer for that) so even in winter I'll be out there walking Holly with my bobble hat and sunglasses!




Next I bought this amazing picnic rucksack, you know how I love a summer picnic  so this is going to be amazing in the summer holidays when Looby and I are on our travels, there's tons of room in it so I should be able to fit my camera and phone in as well and because it's padded everything is going to be safe and cosy!  This was £24.99 instead of the RRP of £49.99 and I'd been looking for one for ages,  I have the traditional basket but when you don't drive this is so much handier, especially if you are travelling on the train, no more overpriced under tasty buffet car for us!


I was perusing the shoe department when I saw these lovely toe post flat sandals by Guess, these were my most expensive purchase at £34.99, I suspect they'd be much pricier if I got them from Guess and do excuse my pearly white toes, these are the first sandals I've bought for years, me thinks a pedicure might happen before my holidays!  I love toe post sandals because flip flops never feel secure enough so having that strap at the back makes my feet feel safe whilst still being airy and look at them, they're summer casual style perfect for summer evenings with a floaty dress or exploring castles and towns with a pair of cropped trousers or leggings.

So that just left a fiver but I wasn't going to be satisfied until I had spent it all so I got myself this cute Caroline Gardiner salad bowl, perfect summer picnic style and only a fiver instead of it's RRP of £10

So there you go, 5 stylish summery items for my £75 and I think that's quite thrifty, ok so the sandals were an indulgence but the bargain designer sunglasses more than make up for my slight splurge, in a future blog post I'll share my secrets of how I have a wardrobe of designer clothes and 95% of them come from charity shops!

TK Maxx kindly sent me a £75 gift card in exchange for me going shopping and writing this post, some jobs are easier than others people, I never refuse shopping or shoes!



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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

3 Confessions Of A Summer Parent



Mandy Charlton, daughter, husky and holly bobbins


Summer holidays are looming, in just 3.5 weeks our beloved young people will be bounding out of their places of eduction declaring that School really is out for summer!  This will shortly be followed 2 days later by cries of I'm bored and complaining that there's nothing to do, everywhere they go is rubbish and you'll smack your head off the desk wondering if they've had 6 weeks off already!

Now I think I'm pretty good at mumming, I've done it for nearly 20 years after all and I've got 3 confessions of things I've done in the past which might just make you feel less guilty.

holly bobbins the beagle and Looby on a bench in a garden


1.  Once or twice when the kids were younger and not so time aware I would put the clock forward and play a pre-recorded bedtime hour from Cbeebies, "Oh look, it's bedtime, it's seven o clock" it worked when they were three but now they're teens I find it's not quite so successful!  This works better in the summer than in the winter because you can just say it's later but it's still light because the days are so long, they will never ever know...

2.  All out bribery, I have resorted to all kinds of bribery when I have needed to work but my lovely kids wanted to do something, I'll offer them anything so I can finish writing emails/editing/doing admin, actually I did find that the perfect solution was to employ my son and now he does some of the admin (as little as he can get away with).

3.  I employ all of my children during summer, from coming along to work (on the promise of going somewhere after with the money they've earned) to sorting out laundry it started with small tasks in exchange for small amounts of money and now they've become the negotiators they'll do pretty much anything as long as it's for the right amount of money!

The truth of the matter though is I'm a self employed single mum and I can't do everything, I'd love to take 6 whole weeks off with the kids but I've not figured out a way to get paid for doing nothing although I'm getting better at having a passive income.  I don't think any of my confessions ever put any of them at harm though and if anything they've become entrepreneurs in their own right.  It's actually great to be self employed and nice to juggle because I still get to spend more time with them than some parents get to spend with their kids and for that I am truly grateful.

This post is an entry for BritMums Confessions of a Summer Parent Challenge, sponsored by Anchor



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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hawthorns Summer Menu Launch, Crowne Plaza, Newcastle Upon Tyne


An espresso martini hawthorns, crowne plaza, newcastle upon tyne


I increasingly visit a lot of hotels but Crowne Plaza remains one of my favourite hotel brands, it's the big rooms and the little touches like the It Works spray you get in every room to help you sleep at night, when you stay in hotels as often as I do, it's exactly those small touches which make you remember a brand.  Last year I stayed at the Crowne Plaza, Victoria dock when I visited London in the summer.
Alliums in the border of the gardens of Crowne Plaza

The Crowne Plaza, Stephenson Quarter is a fairly new arrival to Newcastle and so when I received an invitation to their Hawthorns restaurant
summer menu launch I knew it was going to be a great event.
hawthorns menu launch, summer, newcastle upon tyne

Hawthorns restaurant is bright and airy, spacious and swish, it oozes style and quality and with a commitment to use as much locally sourced produce as possible it's somewhere I'm happy to dine.
chef and manager at crowne plaza newcastle

Amazing sea food, piles of cheeses, pretty platters of petit desserts all went together to serve up a feast which satisfied the eyes as much as it did the stomach.  Oysters, Langoustines, prawns and mussels all served icy cold and fresh were as good as any seafood I'd previously eaten, the Oyster was divine, I never refuse Oysters, a good oyster makes you feel like you are swimming in the salty ocean on a calm tranquil day with the sunshine in the sky and blue all around you, to eat one is to be as close to nature as you can possibly imagine and whilst I realise they're not for everyone they are definitely for me!
bloggers at hawthorns summer launch, newcastle

As well as the platters of tasty foods there was also a BBQ serving up the freshest, tastiest meats, lamb cooked so perfectly that it simply melted in the mouth.
platter of ploughmans lunch at hawthorns

artisan bread collection, hawthorns summer launch

local cheeses at hawthorns summer menu launch

local seafood at hawthorns, newcastle

It wasn't just the food though, the Ouseburn coffee company were serving espresso martinis and Fentimans were also present serving fruity summer cocktails like the warm apple pie which reminded me of Saturday mornings baking with granny, only slightly more alcoholic.  Add to that some live music, a DJ, pretty summer flower borders with towering alliums and a group of my lovely blogging friends Chloe, Pixie, Nyomi, Laura, Melissa and Ashleigh  and you have yourself the perfect combination for a party you just don't want to leave.
desserts at crowne plaza newcastle

creme brulee at hawthorns, crowne plaza, newcastle

ouseburn coffee company at crowne plaza, newcastle upon tyne

After thoroughly sating my appetite with the tastiest morsels in the north combined with refreshments to delight even the pickiest of tastebuds I was sad to find that the time had slipped before me and all too soon it was time to go home and go for a run, yes I actually went for a run, I'm not sure how I even managed it after 4 alcoholic beverages, creme brulee, clotted cream, seafood, bbq, I can tell you though that I felt a lot more virtuous for having come home and gone for a run instead of just going home and going straight to bed!
allium border at crowne plaza newcastle

espresso martini, cocktail

I was invited to Hawthorns and wrote this article with my own views, photos and of course my own photos and I was so impressed by the offerings that I even bought afternoon tea vouchers for my lovely friends Laura and Harriet and I can't wait to go back in the summer with them.
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Run, Mandy, Run, Couch to 5K week 4


mandy charlton, running legs, couch to 5k, karrimor run trainers

So it's week 4 of Couch to 5K and it's still going extremely well, last night I went out for my longest run to date, it was 16 whole minutes of running interspersed with just a couple of minutes of walking to recover and yet again I felt that I could have continued to run when I'd finished my session, Jo Wiley is definitely proud of me this week.

My scales say I've put on 1lb again but I think that might be more to do with Le Petit Chateau, Hawthorns (more on that one in the next post) and a girls night on Saturday.  I took 3 nights off in between my last run of week 3 and my first run of week 4 so i'm not exactly feeling sprightly, fit and I think if I'm honest I still feel more rotund than I hoped I would at this stage.

I have a plan though, this arrived last week from Nutribuddy, now I know what you're thinking and yes it does look suspiciously like one of those meal replacement things.  I'll me honest, my reaction to meal replacement is a sad, unhappy, crying face but wait, before you get all maudlin and start sending sympathy...

the Nutribuddy 14 day pack in my garden

I have a plan, Nutribuddy sent me their kit in the hope that I'd give it a go for 2 weeks and I don't even have to use it like a meal replacement, all I plan to do is replace cakes with shakes, yes that's right, chocolate sculpting whey shake instead of gooey chocolate fudge cake, I'm not going to use the vitamins because I'm already totally vitamin'd up to the max with my daily Vitl which is my monthly vitamin subscription, an indulgence for my body if it were.  There's a suggested diet book and lots of lovely yummy recipes which are things I'd cook anyway, lots of Quinoa and salads and healthy yummy tasty things.  One thing I definitely haven't tried before though are their hunger fix capsules, so what you do is take them an hour before your lunch or dinner and then apparently some kind of miracle happens and you just eat less.

So here's the thing, I'm a size 14 and I've been this way, pretty happy for a couple of years now but just for 1 whole week I would like to be a size 12, I'm not looking further ahead because it's never happened yet but combined with running I want to give my legs and my knees a little extra incentive to be super bouncy and maybe I can get my 11 and a half stone of me to get down to 11 stone and that really would be a miracle.

It's a 2 week plan and Rome was not built in a day but if this gives me a little bit of a leg up in the continuing adventure that is me respecting my body in the way I should have done in my twenties it's got to be a good thing.

I'm not replacing meals with shakes though, you can do meal replacements if you want to but Mandy cries when Mandy gets hungry or "hangry".  I think I was supposed to do one of those in the mirror look at my lardy tummy photos but believe me when I say that no one needs to see that and I don't even own a full length mirror, be sure if I suddenly end up with a paddle flat tummy I will be lording it about though, or lets just take a moment to think about that, i'm 42, I've delivered 3 big babies, had 2 C-Sections, and had a radical hysterectomy, no one ever needs to see my tummy, I don't even look at it myself if I can help it! So here's me with lovely Elanor, I have lots of squidgy bits which need improvement and that's all you need to know.

Mandy charlton, photographer and elanor at her wedding party in doncaster


Things I'm loving this week, running in the rain, it's empowering, I feel like I'm in a running movie, that is until someone fast goes past me and I feel like I'm standing on a slow conveyor belt, in fact I'm so slow that when someone fast ran past me last night I had a momentary wander if I was actually running in reverse.  I'm also loving running to the Hamilton soundtrack, get it in your ears, it's a musical, I suspect Rent was the momma and Eminem was the papa, it's part rap, part camp, part awesome, I never thought I would like it and by some strange parallel Abigail discovered it on the same day and we both love it just as much as each other!

A 14 day weight loss kit with Nutribudy costs £34.99 and they sent me one of those in exchange for following my progress, as ever the words are mine, the views are honest and the hunger pangs wouldn't be very much fun on one of those actual diets, this is just a helping hand people, I repeat, just a helping hand.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Le Petit Chateau, Northumberland, Not Just a Wedding Venue

northumberland wedding venue, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton


Last week I was granted exclusive access to Le Petit Chateau in Otterburn, Northumberland  for 24 hours, I took along my lovely friend Laura from Sharpe Recruitment and we could not believe just how lucky we were to be not only one of the first guests to stay there but also to be pretty much the only guests staying at the chateau that evening.  We found out that it had only just been decided that the chateau is to be used as a hotel as well as an amazing wedding venue which makes me perhaps the happiest travel writer around about that decision because a more magical enchanting place you could not dream of staying.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

I've long been a fan of the shabby chic fabulousness of the apartment groups venues, As You Like It, Newton Hall, just two of my favourite places to spend time at or shoot weddings, when I go there I feel at home for it's a style I love, something I surround myself with at home, I take away ideas for my own home decor whenever I'm there.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

Let me tell you though about Le Petit Chateau... french, art deco, Mediterranean, rustic, all words which could describe this very special place, it epitomises France in the summer for me, white walls with blue shutters which open onto grand courtyards, flowers in window boxes and a quaint old french van, with the sun shining it feels more like the Cote d'Azure than rural Northumberland, I certainly never expected to find Palm trees in Otterburn.  The attention to detail in the rooms is beyond reproach, wooden coffee trays bursting with local products, including Pumphreys coffee specially blended for the chateau and yes all rooms have their own cafetiere.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

The rooms start at a very reasonable £125 per night, that's for a reasonable sized double or twin, if you want a feature bathroom and more room it's worth finding the extra because some of the feature rooms are simply stunning.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

Of course, first and foremost this was a hotel which was planned to be a wedding venue and you only need to view the centrepiece, the Belle Epoque, and you realise that if you want to get married in a building which essentially looks like it's come from your favourite Disney movie then this is the place to be.  Your guests will feel quite special as they meander through the pretty courtyard, darling gardens or as they sit watching the fire fountain, yes a fire fountain, brought in all the way from Vegas, I've never seen anything like it, it's a big statement sure to impress although I must be honest and say I could smell the faint whiff of the gas it takes to power it, a minor irk though.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

Dale, the manager could not have been more wonderful and we really felt cared for by all of the staff who were both on duty at the chateau and also at the adjoined coaching inn, the William De Percy arms, the pub itself reminded me of the Joiners Arms, another fabulous apartment group venue, the food was homely, tasty and cooked to perfection, you must try the mango cheesecake or the baked camembert. 
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton


As a photographer, this new venue excites me, so many photo opportunities for portraits around the grounds, the perfect place for wedding portraits, something which I think may have been thought of in the design, as someone who sees in photographs I couldn't get enough shots and I was visualising in my mind just how amazing this place will be to shoot a wedding in.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

Whilst we were there many places around the chateau are staged to show how the rooms will look if you are having your wedding there, an exciting glimpse into the best day of your life.
northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton

I'll bring you back to an important fact though, it's no longer just a wedding day, it's a romantic bolthole for the hard working parents, it's a hotel with interconnecting rooms perfect to accommodate families looking for a break in the middle of tranquil Northumberland, as we sat in the gardens with the sun beating down on us Laura and I both said we'd not only come again but we thought right now we just might never leave.

northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton




northumberland wedding venue and hotel, otterburn, newcastle photographer mandy charlton


Le Petit Chateau will soon offer a dog friendly room, it wasn't quite ready for our stay but I hope they might just invite me back again with Holly Bobbins so I can soak up more of the mediterranean atmosphere deep in the borders of Northumberland.





If you are planning your wedding at Le Petit Chateau I'd love you to get in touch if you are looking for a wedding photographer, although I only exclusively shoot a maximum of 10 weddings each year I would jump at the chance to shoot some at Le Petit Chateau.

otterburn, northumberland, mandy charlton, travel photographer, blogger, writer







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